Monday, August 15, 2005

Justice, Mercy and Abortion

"Why Abortion is Immoral" [that is a PDF download] is a philosophical essay by Don Marquis outlining a secular, philosophical argument on "whether or not a fetus is the type of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end". He argues that indeed it is that kind of being and that abortion is prima facie (not always) immoral. In the course of doing this, he gave me a "unified theory" on life issues (birth control, abortion, killing in general, and active euthanasia) that does not require secular supporters of abortion to embrace God or the Bible. Indeed, it saves me discussing the Bible with some liberal theologians as well.

In the midst of having two different discussions on abortion at the same time (one with liberal Christians at NARAL: Propaganda Tool of the Radical Right and one with conservative Christians at Breaking the 11th: Speaking Ill of Republicans) Lisa asked me this (in the NARAL discussion):

"However, since you did talk theologically for a moment, let me ask you: is God's mercy or justice more important?"
That is an interesting juxtaposition since most want to examine "mercy" vs "judgment" (and not "justice"). The rest of the theological exchange with Lisa consisted of this:
AMB: Incidentally, groups outside of Abortion clinics can be terrifying. You wonder when they will attack you. Some do while they hand you phone numbers. Ambushing frightened, desperate women outside of a clinic is hardly helpful. There are better ways to help, if that is indeed what they are doing, rather than some judgmental (whore, slut, God will damn you to hell), self-righteous jackasses shoving paper at you and saying that your pain is not as important as the potential life of the child.
Me: people standing in front of abortion centers confronting women going in are going to have an UGLY chat with God at some point. Just my opinion. If someone is opposed to abortion they should be "coming alongside" someone planning to have one and give them the support they need not to.
Lisa: And what of compassion? Any god I would worship would be one of the deepest love and mercy... The embodiment of those things themselves, even . . . Who is your god, exactly?
Me: My God is one that says that even if I am to spend eternity with Him in His love - I still would have to account for beating someone so badly they had a miscarriage [AMB mentioned that a friend of hers had this experience coming out of an abortion clinic after going in to get information]. My God is a God who expects people, especially acting in His name, to treat people with His love - not shout "Murderer" at a women who may be suffering and confused . . . Would you have a God who would just ignore that? Just an "Aw, no big deal. Don't worry about it". My God is a God who demands justice; and sacrificed His own Son so that His justice could be provided in that sacrifice.
[Lisa's question quoted above]
My answer there: "I do not think God would weigh one or the other as higher than the other. I think mercy and justice [judgment is here] are met perfectly in God, and only in God. Since we are called not to judge (unless we want to be judged by our own standards rather than God's), and I do not think it is my job to carry out divine (or secular) justice - mercy is far more important for me. This is true in how I deal with others and my hope in how God will deal with me. Of course, those two things are connected.("Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy")."

Here we are back in the Sermon on the Mount. The question that occurred to me later in the NARAL thread was this: why when abortion supporters ask about compassion (or mercy, or justice, or lack of judgment) for the women contemplating having an abortion do they not extend the questions of mercy, justice, and lack of judgment to the child that may die. Curious.

I agree that we must approach pregnant women thinking about abortion with compassion and mercy and help them to overcome the fears and barriers that may push them to treat their unborn child in a noncompassionate and unmerciful way - inflicting final earthly judgment on it in ending its life by abortion.

So, starting from the definitions linked above lets talk about God's, and ours, mercy, justice, and judgment. I do not particularly see this as an abortion discussion although it, along with many other things, may provide some examples to discuss.


  1. John:

    For a different secular take on the abortion issue, and one that also draws lines many on both sides will find uncomfortable, see Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's take on the issue. I suspect you'll disagree with their conclusions, but based on previous discussions, I think you'll find the frankness with which they weight the moral dilemmas to be refreshing.

  2. But on topic, I think this:

    why when abortion supporters ask about compassion (or mercy, or justice, or lack of judgment) for the women contemplating having an abortion do they not extend the questions of mercy, justice, and lack of judgment to the child that may die. mostly limited to the extremes, and both extremes are guilty of it (decrying the fate of mother or fetus while ignoring the fate of the other).

    But in the middle, I don't think this is the case at all. The simple fact is that you have two contradictory concerns/values here, and a fundamental disagreement over which should take precedence.

    That said, I think it just as unfairly charicatures the typical pro-choicer to claim that they have no concern for unborn fetuses at all, as it does to the typical pro-lifer to claim that they care not at all about the woman.

  3. Of course, most such things are. I was more interested to getting to Lisa's question: What is more important: mercy or justice?

    It falls in with some of what we were discussing in the "Kingdom character" thread.

    When it comes to abortion, people really either do, or do not, think of the fetus is "the type of being whose life is seriously wrong to end" - even on just a prima facie basis.

    Even at that reasonable people can end up leaning on the fence (on opposite sides) and figure out how to reduce the number of abortions: birth control, social and economic support for pregnant moms, abstinence education, emotional support, etc. Considering the state of our culture, mandatory high school classes on the ethics of killing (or actually not killing) would probably be a good thing even outside the abortion issue.

    Then of course we have to agree about what we would teach. It is funny (not ha ha) that there might be desperate disagreements about what to teach in a course on "Why not to Kill"

  4. Yes, such a course would be a minefield. Not a bad idea, though. The death penalty, war, and abortion are the big 'life' issues, all under state control to some degree, yet citizens don't learn very much about the issues involved in them. I went to a very good public school and never heard of just war theory until well into college.

  5. tgirsch:

    Thanks a million for that link. I already knew Carl Sagan was the man, (this was clear to me after seeing Contact and reading a chapter or two of A Candle in the Dark) but the following is the best paragraph I've ever read with regard to abortion, and one of the best with regard to anything:

    Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

    Again, thanks. We're talking about this at the watchpost, and you're more than willing to weigh in, if you have the time to skim the 60-odd comments already up.

  6. If you don't mind, could you tell me your first name? I hate responding to handles.

  7. tgirsch

    I read the Sagan article. I agree its probably the best presentation of a "personhood" type argument.

    Of course, my opposition to abortion doesn't rely on "Does life begins at conception?" or "when are you a person?" type arguments. If there were high school ethics classes on killing, students would have to be presented with all three of these arguments - plus the one that says as long as the baby is in the mother it is the mother's decision.

    Have you ever read Roe v Wade or watched Silent Scream

    I will be in Oklahoma until Sunday evening and do not know if I will have internet access. Take care all.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly